A recent Lancet article argued that obesity is contributing to global warming because the obese consume more calories.
Since making food releases carbon, that means an obese person, on average, is worse for global warming than a skinny person. (Not to mention the extra methane the obese might release, but that is my father’s area of expertise, not my own.)
Just to put these arguments into perspective, I made some simple calculations for the United States.
Let’s say that food production is responsible for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — although I suspect that is too high. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 were the equivalent of roughly 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. If food production accounts for 20 percent, then food production resulted in the emission of 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
According to Wikipedia, the social cost of a ton of carbon dioxide is $12. So the greenhouse gases released to make the food Americans ate in 2006 had a social cost of $16.8 billion.
There are about 300 million Americans who consume about 1,500 calories per day. If my calculations are correct, then the appropriate global warming tax would be about $1 for every ten thousand calories consumed.
According to the Lancet article, the obese consume about 400 extra calories per day. So the appropriate tax on the obese to account for their extra global warming impact would be a little over $1 per month.
In other words, the effect is too small to even be talking about.
But as long as we are having the conversation, if we want to blame the obese for global warming, those who engage in recreational exercise like jogging or biking for pleasure should surely be discouraged from doing so because of global warming.
Someone who jogs an hour per day burns an extra 1,000 calories daily … far more than an obese person. Such wasteful burning of calories must be discouraged if we are to save the planet.
I hereby call for the next president of the United States to pass legislation imposing a carbon tax of 10 cents per hour on all recreational burning of calories. To save the planet, we must encourage people to sit at home and burn as few calories as possible.